Where am I?

The Wild World of Finance

Juli Niemann tames an often daunting topic.

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of Tableaux.

For Juli Iwersen Niemann, a 45-year veteran of the industry, finance is an adventure.

“It’s wild and never boring,” she said, flashing her signature grin. Although it can be scary, investing is all about risk management. Circumstances are constantly changing. Financial matters encompass everything — politics, psychology, history. That’s why Fontbonne was so great — I got a fully liberal arts education.”

Niemann graduated from Fontbonne College in 1968 with double majors in history and economics and minors in theology and philosophy. She loved college and reveled in learning, although she was “counseled out” of the home economics department,she confessed.

“College was like a smorgasbord for me. It was totally liberal arts — we graduated as critical thinkers,” she said. “This was the 60s, of course, and most women were going into nursing or teaching.”

Niemann had other ideas. She didn’t marry right out of college like many of her peers. She asked, “What’s next?” a question that directed her to a one-week stint in law school, which she promptly fled, conceding that she was out of her element. So she got a job at a mutual fund, a professionally managed investment vehicle made up of a pool of investors. In a primarily male-dominated industry, her role model at the time was a tall, red-haired woman working as an oil and gas analyst. “She was the first woman ever permitted into the Saudi oil fields, but she had to dress in full burka, covering her flaming red hair.” Niemann jumped into the industry and never looked back.

Now an executive vice president for research and portfolio management with Smith, Moore and Co., Niemann also holds a master’s in business administration and finance and has held roughly the same job for the past four decades. She spends her days at her Clayton office counseling clients and voraciously analyzing the markets. Her infectious laugh and personable demeanor make her extremely approachable, but don’t be fooled — when it comes to finance, she will tell you exactly what she thinks, whether you want to hear it or not. She believes firmly in financial education, appearing on local and national media programs to offer sage wisdom and blunt advice to the average investor.

“It’s teaching,” she said about her media appearances. “Nothing is more important than being an informed investor — that way, you are not being sold. Being educated is very important. Where there is a lot of money, there are a lot of shysters. And an informed investor won’t fall for that. I’m about the investor — not about the product.”

Her sense of responsibility to those in need of information and education could perhaps be attributed, in part, to her years at Fontbonne, which Niemann has held close throughout her life. She spoke vividly of role models like Sister Roberta Schmidt and Sister Rosemary Flanagan, CSJs who participated in a landmark civil rights march in Selma, Ala., in 1965. Their message of social justice resonates with Niemann to this day, and she believes she and her peers have a responsibility now to serve as a new generation of role models, like the sisters did before. And so, when she’s not in the office, she gives her time and talents, often volunteering on the boards of local nonprofits, most of which involve children and education.

To the benefit of finance majors everywhere, to young women, and to her community, Niemann truly is a role model. And to the benefit of Fontbonne, this savvy businesswoman and kind heart claims the university as her own.